A/n- I know that there has not been any marching band in this story so far, but wanted to explain that it comes later. Promise. :)


Don sucked in his breath, taking apparent relish in his explanation.

"This would be Wandering Torch Ranch. The most envied and debated correctional facility on the planet, I'm sure," Don said. He stuck his nose in the over-sized coffee mug before continuing. "Back when the Miss bought all this property years ago, she wanted to do something to make the world a better place. Then the economy turned sour, and she kept reading about all these kids getting turned out back onto the streets on account of there weren't any funding for orphanages and the like. Well, there weren't enough kids to do like she originally wanted and make a good school up here, so she turned it part orphanage, part school, part social-worker's nightmare there's so many parts.

She knew that not all those kids who had ridiculous sentences were bad, and wanted to give the redeemable ones a second chance. Chance to live, and prove themselves. Yup. We started out with thirty three boys, so we did. And we just kept growing and growing. Highest success rate in the country."

He noticed that Don puffed up proudly as he said that last part. Don acted like it was a big deal.

"So, what do I do?" Dave asked warily.

"Do?" Don asked. "What do you mean what do you do? You live here now, as long as you earn your keep. You'll learn some of the most important things in your life here. You'll go to school, build trails, raise animals, grow food, do chores, and sometimes, you'll even have fun. You'll learn how to live. That's what you'll do." He checked the big clock hanging at the front of the hall.

"First though, we got to get you all checked in and accounted all formal-like. Most of today will be formalities, sort of an introduction, since you missed yesterday. Well, let's get going," he said, hefting himself up from the table. He carried his dishes to the side of the hall where three tubs of water and a trashcan stood. He plunged his bowl and spoon into the first tub, which had the remnants of suds still floating around in it. Then he swirled them around the second tub, which was full of cleaner water and no suds. Finally, he rinsed them in the last bucket.

"Make sure and scrape all your extra food into the trash can afore you wash those," he said, heading towards the coffee machine. Dave looked at the bottom of his bowl; there were only a few spoonfuls left. He flung the bowl's contents into the trashcan before kneeling down to scrub the dishes, scowling distastefully. His scowl disappeared as his hands scrubbed the inside of the bowl. The water was pleasantly warm. He got the rest of the oatmeal off as best he could and rinsed the dishes in the other two. By that time Don had come back with another mug of coffee. He looked positively gleeful.

"Alright, so we're gonna go get your stuff now. Close up your mess kit so you don't have to carry it in pieces, boy, that's the point of having it all in a kit. Alright, follow me." Dave had to hurry to keep up with the man. He lost track of where they were going as they wound their way through the village of cabins. He glanced up as they passed the flag pole, thinking about the name of the place. Wandering Torch Ranch. For some reason, he liked the sound of it.

They stopped in front of another building that was smaller than the others, but still had the same cabin-like appearance. Don opened the door and beckoned him inside. Shelves made a thin aisle-way through the entirety of the shed. Stacked there were boxes, bags, and who knew what else. Don was muttering to himself as he looked at the markings on the outside of the boxes.

"Maybe this one, but I don't know, he's a scrawny little feller…" He mumbled around some more, poking and peeking into boxes.

"Help me out son, how old are you?" he asked Dave. Taken aback, he stammered.

"Uh, I'll be fourteen this next month."

"Fourteen, rounding up of course… would be pointless to have you get settled, then just to have you move in the next month… that would make it red," he said, finding the right box. He pulled out a red and black plaid flannel shirt and held it up. "That should do it, just fine," he said, pulling out three more.

"Here, catch," he flung the shirts at Dave, while pulling down another box. This one contained jeans that were lined in grey flannel. He collected three of these, along with heavy wool socks, a fleece-lined hat, underwear, two different coats, sturdy boots and long underwear to go beneath it all.

"Let's get you settled into your bunk," Don said, herding the boy back out of the storage shed. He put the heavy lock back in place before turning off to the right. They passed several of the shack-like cabins, stopping in front of one that had a large sign designating it the "Fox" cabin. Carved into the sign were paw prints and images of foxes camouflaged into leaves and brush. A bigger tail and paws were visible above the word "Fox". Snow lay heavy on the top, obscuring the creature's face. When Don went inside to make sure everything was in order, Dave reached up and knocked some snow off of the corner. Two bright eyes stared down at him. He could have sworn the fox was laughing at him; the carving appeared far too life-like for Dave's comfort.

Don came back out the door, startling the boy out of his reverie. He raised his eyebrow at the boy's shocked face.

"Come on in, mind you don't trip on the door, and don't drag that pant leg through the snow," he directed. Dave glanced down and twitched the offending pant leg back over his arm before going up the steps and through the wooden door. Inside it was like a large, many bedded version of the cabin he had spent the past night in. There were sixteen smallish beds that lined the walls, eight on each side. In between each there was a small, single-drawered table. There was no one in the cabin right now; all the bunks were neatly made with patchwork quilts of various red shades. Dave stared at the rows of beds. It looked to him like something that came out of a fairy tale more than a delinquent correctional facility. Not that he knew much about fairy tales.

Don waved him to the third bunk on the right. A small number 11 was carved into the foot of the bed, revealing the pale wood under the darker varnish. A small notebook appeared in Don's hands. He was busily scribbling in it, muttering to himself. He paused only to open the trunk at the foot of the bed and peer into it. After he was sure it was empty, he motioned for Dave to deposit his armload of clothes into the trunk.

"So this is where you'll live and sleep and everything else, Fox 11." He pulled a set of clothes out from the trunk. "Follow me."


A/n- I know every author says this at the end of just about every chapter, but reviews are awesome. Even more awesome is if you take 30 seconds to link this or any other story you enjoy to someone else you know will enjoy it. :) Written word is meant to be shared, especially when it is enjoyed.